Herman Leonard, jazz photographer, dies aged 87


Pasadena, CA (PRWEB) August 16, 2010
Herman Leonard, a celebrated photographer whose iconic images of Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Frank Sinatra documented one of the most creative eras of jazz from the late 1940’s through the 1960’s, has died. He was 87.

Leonard died August 14, 2010 at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.

Leonard was best known for his smoky, backlit portraits of jazz artists in New York, Paris and London. His images graced the covers of numerous albums and helped to form the visual archetype of the jazz musician.

Born and raised in Allentown, PA in 1923, at age 9, Herman Leonard witnessed an image being developed in his brother’s darkroom and became enthralled with the magic of photography. When it came time for college, Leonard chose Ohio University in Athens, the only university at the time to offer a degree in Photography. His college studies were interrupted from 1943-1945 as Leonard served with the United States Army in Burma with the 13th Mountain Medical Battalion as an anesthetist. Leonard returned to college and graduated in 1947 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree.

Leonard started his photography career in 1947 as an apprentice with master portrait photographer, Yousuf Karsh. After one year with Karsh, photographing Albert Einstein, Martha Graham and other cultural icons, Karsh encouraged Leonard to break out on his own, telling him “ I know you have it in you to be a great photographer. Go out and conquer.” Upon leaving, Karsh imparted the words “Always tell the truth, but in terms of beauty.”, a credo which Leonard lived by through his photography.

In 1948 Leonard moved to New York and became involved with the jazz scene there, making agreements with club owners to photograph rehearsals in exchange for photographs for their marquees. Leonard has said his aim was “to create a visual diary of what I heard, to make people see the way the music sounded”. Leonard formed relationships with many of the musicians he photographed and remained lifelong friends with Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones and Tony Bennett.

In 1956 Leonard was chosen to be Marlon Brando's personal photographer for an extensive research trip to the Far East. In the late 1950's Leonard moved to Paris and continued to photograph the prolific jazz scene, while working in fashion, advertising, travel and editorial photography.

In 1980, Leonard moved from Paris to the island of Ibiza, where he remained until 1987. During that time Leonard rediscovered his jazz negatives and in 1985 released his first book, The Eye of Jazz, published by Hachette/Filipachi Publications. In 1988, the first exhibition of Leonard’s jazz photographs was held at the Special Photographers Company in London. The exhibit was hugely successful and over 10,000 visitors came to view the first retrospective of Leonard’s work. Leonard’s first US show premiered in 1989 and toured nationally.

In 1992, Leonard moved to New Orleans and immersed himself in the city’s lively jazz scene and exhibited his work around the world in numerous solo shows. In 1995, Leonard released his second book, Jazz Memories, published by Editions Filipacchi and in that same year was awarded an Honorary Masters of Science in Photography from The Brooks Institute of Photography. Other awards include the “Milt Hinton Award for Excellence in Jazz Photography," from Jazz Photographer’s Association in 1999, the "Excellence in Photography Award” from the Jazz Journalists Association in 2000 and a "Lifetime Achievement Award” from Downbeat Magazine in 2004. In 1997 Leonard was the subject of the Louisiana Public Broadcasting Company documentary “Frame After Frame” narrated by Tony Bennett.

In 2005, Leonard’s home and studio in New Orleans were severely damaged in Hurricane Katrina and his archive of over 8,000 prints were lost in the flood. Fortunately, his negatives were saved and housed at The Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Leonard then relocated to Los Angeles and rebuilt his life and business there. In 2006, he was the subject of the BBC/Sundance documentary “Saving Jazz”, which follows a then 82-year-old Leonard on his painful return home and his efforts to rebuild his life’s work. In 2008, Leonard was the first photographer to be granted a Grammy Foundation Grant for Preservation and Archiving, enabling him to digitize, catalogue and preserve his collection of nearly 60,000 jazz negatives.

In 2008, Leonard was presented with the Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Portraiture at the International Photography Awards. In 2009, he was Commencement Speaker and was granted an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from his alma mater, Ohio University. Also in 2009, Leonard was the official photographer for the Montreal Jazz Festival, photographing legends such as Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck as well as newcomers such as Melody Gardot. In June 2010, The Montreal Jazz Festival awarded Leonard the Bruce Lundvall Award. In January 2010, Leonard was a guest of Lenny Kravitz in the Bahamas, where he photographed the musician in the studio working on his latest album. Leonard remained active throughout his life, photographing, printing and working on exhibition, documentary and book projects.

Leonard has five publications to his name, including the recently released The Jazz Image: Seeing Music through Herman Leonard’s Photography, published by University Press of Mississippi, the first scholarly book to examine Leonard’s work, and Jazz published by Grove Atlantic (UK) and Bloomsbury (US) due to be released in November 2010, which contains Leonard’s well known photography as well as many newly discovered images.

Leonard’s photographs have been exhibited worldwide and are in the permanent collections of many major institutions, including the Smithsonian Institution. His body of work is a historical treasure and stunning document of the evolution of modern Jazz.

"In his long career, Herman captured it all beautifully and powerfully; however the importance of Herman’s jazz images transcends their visual appeal. They are documents of historic significance, cataloguing the development of one of the greatest art forms in American history. One cannot emphasize enough the value of Herman’s archive to our country’s musical legacy. When people think of Jazz, their mental picture is likely one of Herman’s” - Quincy Jones

“Herman is my favorite artist of any technique, he’s a painter with his camera, and he makes it look so effortless. His timing is as great as any Charlie Parker solo or Lester Young or Count Basie beat. Herman’s work will live on and in 50 years from now, when the revolution is realized, jazz will be recognized for the truly great American art form it is” - Tony Bennett

"Herman is an extraordinary talent, the greatest jazz photographer in history”
President Bill Clinton

“To speak of Herman Leonard's genius in the art of photography would be the obvious. His real gift was his execution of getting the most out of his life experience. The images that lived in his heart and mind outweighed his printed images. Herman's quench for life was insatiable right up to the very end. He lived every moment to its fullest. I was blessed to have shared beautiful moments with Herman that will be among the highlights of my life. I will continue to love you my friend.” – Lenny Kravitz –

More information can be found here.


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